Truck Rewind: PM Phoenix VW Camper Van – Can You Build It?

There is more to the PM Phoenix Camper Van than a kit body on top of an air-cooled Volkswagen van platform – well, not really. The PM Phoenix Camper Van (PM is for Popular Mechanics Magazine, who offered the plans) is a concept that pleased many enthusiasts back in the day. It was daring, cool looking, utilitarian and unlike anything that was on the road back then.

Sure, the Volkswagen bus it was based on introduced many to the small-van camping lifestyle, but the Phoenix Camper Van did it in style. It had gull-wing doors, because that’s cool. It had fold-down plexiglass sections in the gull-wing doors pivoting on piano hinges which is cool too. Oh, and futuristic safety? Well, with that massive overhang, it was best if you didn’t hit anything.

According to the manufacturer, for around $2,000 – you could get all of the components you need to build this vehicle, on top of the price for the Volkswagen van you’re using as the basis for the PM Phoenix Camper Van. While it’s difficult for some to swallow, it’s supposed to be fairly easy to fabricate this vehicle without the use of expensive, or hard-to-acquire tools. One builder boasted he built the entire van in less than a month. The PM Phoenix Camper Van also showed up on the December 1980 cover of Hot VW Magazine.

One of the more notable design elements of this van was the side-opening pop-out tent section with an extending roof to boot. This allowed up to four passengers space to sleep and extra headroom to stand. The plans make space for a kitchen, sitting area and cargo options, but no bathroom.

This configuration proved popular enough that more than a few of these vans were built. They have been featured in many magazines and variations of this van showed up on television and movies – whenever a “future van” was needed. One even showed up in the first Total Recall movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

You can still get plans for this retro-futuristic baby at

Speaking of awesome camper vans…


Easily amused by anything with four wheels, Nathan Adlen reviews vehicles from the cheapest to the most prestigious. Wrecking yards, dealer lots, garages, racetracks, professional automotive testing and automotive journalism - Nathan has experienced a wide range of the automotive spectrum. Brought up in the California car culture and educated in theater, childhood education, film, journalism and history, Nathan now lives with his family in Denver, CO. His words, good humor and video are enjoyed worldwide.